When I learned that you can- and should!- roast strawberries, I was kind of shocked. While conceptually this makes perfect sense (because what fruit or vegetable does not improve with roasting? I cannot think of a single one, can you? Well, maybe melons. Or cucumber…), it took me a little while to wrap my brain around the idea. I’ve always consumed most of my strawberries raw, so it seemed like such a strange thing to do.

I love strawberries. LOVE. They are, hands down, my favorite berry. But. I don’t think strawberries grown in California or elsewhere taste very good by the time they make it over here to New York. I suspect this is because they’ve been plucked too soon- a fact necessitated by the need to transport them for thousands of miles- and because strawberries don’t continue to ripen after they’ve been picked. Also, I imagine they’re a variety that holds up well to shipping, but that just isn’t particularly tasty. Whatever the reason(s), the bottom line is this: I think most of the strawberries you buy in plastic containers from the supermarket suck. So I don’t bother to eat fresh strawberries for most of the year (I do buy frozen ones, though…they’re perfectly passable in smoothies).

I am not sure about where you live, but strawberries begin to appear in gardens and at farm stands late in the spring and stick around just until the beginning of the summer around here. They’ll be gone all too soon, so don’t squander the short season pondering what roasted strawberries might taste like without giving them a go. I did this last year, then regretted it for months afterward. True story.

So go forth and find the most beautiful, local strawberries that you can. Pick your own, if possible, and please make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides. Buy too many. Then freeze the extras. You’ll thank me a few months from now.

You’ll need a quart of strawberries for this recipe. After you trim and slice them, you’ll mix your berries with some vanilla, organic sugar, and a wee pinch of sea salt. Then you’ll spread everything out onto a parchment lined baking sheet (make sure it’s a baking sheet with a rim, or you’ll end up with a big mess)

and blast it with some heat for 25-30 minutes.

I know it’s hot out. And that you don’t want to turn on the oven. But trust me. Please.

When you pull the pan from the oven, you will see that the strawberries have cooked down, and that they’re floating in a pool of red liquid.

The scent will be pretty intoxicating, and you MUST taste the fruit and the juice (don’t burn yourself, though). Notice how the strawberry flavor has concentrated and transformed into something really intense.

Now if you wanted to eat the whole batch of roasted strawberries as is, I’d be fine with that; I’d also be fine with it if you wanted to put them in cake. Or muffins.

But stay with me if you like the idea of whirring your roasted strawberries into an icy cold drink.

An agua fresca is a Mexican refresher: a combination of fruit, sugar, and water, served very cold. Because the fruit is cooked here, this isn’t a traditional aqua fresca. But there’s nothing wrong with breaking tradition every once in a while, is there?

Because roasting the strawberries means you end up with a good bit of liquid (and because I didn’t want to dilute the strawberry flavor too much) I decided not to add any additional water to mine, but to blend in a bunch of ice instead. I have a high speed blender that accommodates ice just fine…if your blender is a more dainty sort, I suggest making this in a food processor instead, or blend with water and then serve over ice. Something else you could do is blend in additional fresh strawberries. I haven’t tried this yet but I am going to soon, for sure.

Agua frescas often have more sugar than I’ve added: I didn’t want a really sweet drink, but you can adjust to your taste. The basil is optional (I used Thai basil from my garden),

but I really enjoyed it in here: leave it out if you like, or try this with fresh mint instead.

One more thing: I didn’t add any booze because I made this as a daytime thirst quencher, but add a splash of vodka or rum (or whatever floats your boat) and you’ve got the perfect summertime cocktail.

ps If you do happen to miss strawberry season, you can certainly still make this recipe. In fact: roasting might be just the thing to make sucky strawberries not suck!

pps (or is it pss?) Blueberries take very kindly to roasting, too, and a combination of strawberries and blueberries is fun. Who knew?

Recipe for Roasted Strawberry Agua Fresca

Yield: 2 servings

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

*1 quart strawberries, preferably local (when trimmed and sliced, you should have about 3 heaping cups of strawberries; use more for an even fruitier drink, or consider using both roasted and fresh strawberries in this recipe)
*4 tablespoons organic sugar, plus more to taste
*2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
*pinch of fine or coarse sea salt
*juice of 1-2 limes (or lemons)- I suggest trying it with the smaller amount before adding more
*handful of fresh basil (I used Thai basil from my garden) or mint
*ice cubes: about 10, or to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, combine trimmed and sliced strawberries, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the vanilla extract, and the salt. Spread out onto prepared baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully transfer the strawberries and accumulated liquid to your blender. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

4. Add 2 more tablespoons of sugar to the blender, along with the juice of one lime (or lemon) and the basil. Add ice cubes and process until fairly smooth (it's fine for some ice chunks to remain). Taste and add more lime (or lemon) juice, sugar, and/or more ice, as desired.

5. Pour into glasses (over additional ice if you like) and serve immediately...I got 2 servings that were 2 cups each out of this recipe.

Roasted Strawberries inspired by Heidi over at Design Sponge.

More Agua Frescas:
Pineapple Ginger Agua Fresca from A Thought for Food
Melon Agua Fresca from Smitten Kitchen
Strawberry Watermelon Agua Fresca from Simply Recipe

More Roasted Strawberries:
Slow Roasted Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar and Wine from Eat the Love
Roasted Strawberry Couscous Salad from Running to the Kitchen
Roasted Strawberry Vinaigrette from RoseMarried